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    Group Identity May Prevent Human Stampedes

    Group Identity May Prevent Human Stampedesi
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    January 18, 2016 1:28 PM
    Large gatherings are usually peaceful but sometimes turn unruly with deadly consequences. Last year’s stampede during the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, for example, left more than 2,000 people dead. Psychologists say understanding how and why crowds sometimes behave as they do, and controlling them, involves recognizing people's capacity for self-regulation. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    George Putic

    Large gatherings are usually peaceful but sometimes turn unruly with deadly consequences. Last year’s stampede during the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, for example, left more than 2,000 people dead. Psychologists say understanding how and why crowds sometimes behave as they do, and controlling them, involves recognizing people's capacity for self-regulation.

    Saudi authorities say they have spent more than $300 million to improve the safety of pilgrims during the annual visit to the Muslim holy sites, a central tenet of Islam.

    But stampedes still happen in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, so psychologists are trying to understand why and what can be done to prevent them.

    Understanding stampedes

    Observing groups of undergraduate students, psychologists at the University of Sussex noticed differences in behavior when subjects perceived themselves as individuals sharing only physical space with others, as opposed to sharing some sort of social identity.

    Undergraduate students that share a group identity, walk to a library square on the Sussex campus, while researchers film the event to observe that behavior
    Undergraduate students that share a group identity, walk to a library square on the Sussex campus, while researchers film the event to observe that behavior

    “We primed a bunch of undergraduate students to share a group identity and then gave them a task where they had to walk to a library square on the Sussex campus, and we filmed them as they walked under a bridge and then tracked that behavior” Anne Tempelton, PhD student explained. “and we compared that behavior to when they weren't primed at all.”

    Sharing common identity, stick together

    Students who shared the common identity, such as wearing the same black baseball caps, stayed together, keeping a close formation. Students who did not belong to a group just rushed past each other.

    Using the videos, social psychologists at the University of Applied Sciences in Munich created a computer simulation which showed that individuals sharing a common identity move slower and seem to be less susceptible to panic attacks. They may be easier to control because they feel safer when they belong to the same group.

    “We got an explanation for that, which is the more that people identify with the crowd, the more they expect social support,” said Dr. John Drury, University of Sussex.

    Psychologists say this and other studies point to the importance of having a person who communicates to others within a group, helping them to internalize instructions about which behavior is safe and which is unsafe.

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    Comment Sorting
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    by: Lukasz Nalewaj from: United Kingdom
    January 19, 2016 6:27 AM
    It would be good start if media stopped portraying all crowd crushes as "stampedes", look up in dictionary term describing crowds being at fault causing crush. We record that most of so called "stampedes" were in fact results of poor crowd management and in fact not understanding basic needs and expectations of these crowds.

    Quoting Prof. Drury and wrongly using term stampede is definitely not something crowd psychologist would sign their name under.

    by: Michel, N.
    January 19, 2016 1:53 AM
    Thank you to the research team for trying to find a solution to this madness in Saudi Arabia. I observed the same thing as a teen refugee many years back. The more the refugees were dispersed in the forest of DR Congo in 1996-1998 and onward, identities were formed especially based on regions of origins for their survival. Groups could easily disintergrate as the members sought those from their geographical origins in Rwanda. While some died as a result of poor decision-making in the forest, these identities saved many people especially when the AFDL advanced towards refugees. We were able to disappear in the forest hence reducing the crowd to very small numbers which were hard to follow in the forest. Hopefully in Saudi Arabia, piligrims can have identifiers so as people sharing similar identities March together hence significantly reducing the drama.

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